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Raising Our Light event commemorates anniversary of Montecito mudslide disaster

MONTECITO, Calif. - Sunday will mark the four-year anniversary of the deadly Montecito mudslide disaster.

Each year since the deadly event, which happened Jan. 9, 2018, community roots have grown a little deeper; brush and scrub cover the hills above, new homes have replaced piles of mud and, survivors are moving forward with their lives.

This year, the community will gather remotely for a more private remembrance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event began at 6:30 p.m. with an invocation from Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor. Firefighters then lit 23 candles in honor of the 23 victims of the Debris Flow followed by a moment of silence. A searchlight was then lit at Montecito Union School and 23 bells were rung.

In a COVID world of isolation and divisiveness, ripped apart by politics, it would serve our nation well to zero in on the strength and resilience of Montecito's community, once ripped apart by mud.

Locals across zip codes have banded together since that horrific morning in 2018, pulling each other up from the unimaginable. As one survivor privately put it, "Amazon's Jeff Bezos couldn't pay for this type of inner strength and unity."

Areas obliterated by mud and boulders where more than 100 houses once stood have been transformed back into neighborhoods with homes and yards, gardens and families. Moving into the new year in 2022, streets are still dotted with work crews repairing the remainder of some 400 homes that were left battered and broken after the debris flow.

One family spent part of the past year moving their entire 410-ton home, to higher ground.

Across town, bridges blasted by massive boulders were rebuilt, once again linking roads and neighborhoods. Creeks that blew out their banks that dark morning of January 9, now cradle flowing water, when we're lucky enough to get rain. And, in the hills above, crews work to carve out a new debris basin on Buena Vista Creek.

The bulk of the mud, debris and boulders that flowed to the highway were cleared out, scoop by scoop, thanks to some 3,000 volunteers with the Bucket Brigade and non-stop trucking by Marborg.

This past year brought high emotions when the remains of 17-year-old Jack Cantin, one of two children missing in the disaster that took 23 lives, were found. The search for 2-year-old Lydia Sutthithepa goes on.

And more progress on the 101 freeway that became a thick river of mud during the event; this year, the lanes morphed into a construction zone for widening.

Across the freeway, the historic All Saints-by-the Sea Church that served as triage during the disaster has been newly renovated.

And finally, One805, symbolic for unifying this coastal community, ended 2021 with a fundraiser bash honoring our First Responders -- the heroes who pulled survivors from the mud four years ago and have helped lift up our community ever since.


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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about Beth, click here

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